Back from my hiatus

I may have been off the grid for a while, but I promise it was with good reason!  My husband and I just got home last weekend after two weeks traveling through Italy 🙂  I told you all a while ago about how nervous I was getting prepared for the trip, and how they’d be able to handle celiac disease.  Not only was I impressed with what I found online before our trip, but let me tell you, Italy did not disappoint.  I have plenty of restaurant reviews, tips, and experiences to share with you all…but for starters I thought I’d walk you all through our itinerary, and how we felt our time was best spent.

While I was in college, I had the privilege to study abroad in a little town called Paderno del Grappa.  We were nestled in the Dolomite mountains, and though we didn’t have a train station in our town, we were close enough that we were able to take some great weekend trips through Italy while we were there.  My main focus of this trip was to make sure my husband got to see everything he wanted to (this was his first trip to Italy), that we were able to meet up with his distant relatives near Rome, and to take advantage of going back to see anything and everything I may have missed out on years ago!  We knew we wanted to spend two weeks over there, so once we found our flights it was time to hammer out where we’d be staying.  Here’s the official breakdown we came up with:

  • Rome: 5 nights
  • Florence: 3 nights
  • Cinque Terre: 2 nights
  • Milan: 1 night
  • Venice: 3 nights

Initially we were so overwhelmed with everything else in our lives that we though about reaching out to a travel agent.  The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt asking someone else to figure out our accommodations…I KNOW Italy!  Having studied abroad, I knew where we’d want to stay, how we’d get from town to town, and that hotels are definitely NOT the best option out there.  We spent an entire Sunday looking through our options and tracking down the best Bed & Breakfasts, or in some cases, smaller hotels.  Here are some of the resources I leveraged to find exactly what I was looking for, and why I used them:

  • – This site was one of my best resources studying abroad.  If you’re thinking you’re too old for hostels, don’t worry!  You can use the search tools to select exactly what you’re looking for.  For us, that was narrowed down to either hotels or a B&B with an ensuite room (meaning a private bathroom).  Depending on what else you need, there are other facilities that you can ensure the host can offer such as luggage storage, air conditioning, breakfast, internet access, etc.
  • – For those smaller properties that might not be listed on other sites, Venere was a great resource.  This helped us track down other B&B options that might not have been listed on Hostel World.  Definitely be aware though, once you find the place you want to stay, check to see if they have their own website or contact information.  You’ll usually get the best rates directly from the B&B or hotel, and not through a middle-man website.
  • – This was our final line of defense in making sure we made the best choices.  Once you think you’ve narrowed it down, check on TripAdvisor to see what people are actually saying about the place.  Read the most current reviews, as things can frequently change, and you want to be sure that anything you’re reading is as accurate as possible.

We’ll be working on getting a review posted for each of the places we stayed, and once we do I’ll be sure to post a link to it here!  For now, I hope you enjoy a few quick pictures from the trip….don’t worry, there will be plenty more 🙂


The Roman Forum, wandering around the city after flying in, but before we could check into our room!


The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome.


Getting a tour of Frosinone, a small town outside of Rome, from relatives of my husband’s family.


Overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River in Florence.


The front facade of the Duomo in Florence.


Miles and miles of vineyards in the Chianti region, stunning view from San Gimignano.


Looking out into the street from Sforza Castle in Milan. They’re really gearing up for the 2015 World’s Fair, the buildings on either side of the picture are from entrance tents to the fair.


Enjoying the streets of Burano after a day watching all of the talented glass makers in Murano.



Returning to Italy

If you’ve read the About Me page, you know I found my passion for traveling while living abroad in Italy.  It’s been about eight years since that semester abroad, and I am well overdue to go back.  My husband’s family is Italian, and it’s been a goal of his to see where they’re from.  Naturally I am 110% behind him on this goal, and could not wait to go back to the spark that ignited my love for world travel.  There’s only one thing that’s been lingering in the back of my head…how on earth will I get by in the land of gluten?!

Immediately I have visions of gnocchi, pizza margherita, tiramisu, everything I can no longer indulge.  Here’s the wonderful thing I found out though as our plans begin to come together, not only do Italians have an understanding of celiac disease, but they’re incredibly sympathetic to our needs.  I found dozens of sites and travel reviews referencing the stipend that Italian citizens receive to purchase gluten free foods once they’ve been diagnosed.  Upon stating “senza glutine” restaurant owners will quickly work with you to offer gluten free meals, understanding the importance of washing their hands and paying attention to avoid cross-contamination.

I can’t speak from experience on this, but I’m excited to return and see just how accepting they are of my needs!  I would love to hear from all of my readers to see what your favorite restaurants, sites, etc. are that you consider a “must do” in Italy.  Please share your experiences with me, I love a good recommendation prior to a big trip!!

Want to know what made me fall in love with Italy the first time?  Here goes…

The old world charm of Cinque Terre

The old world charm of Cinque Terre


The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo

The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo


City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics

City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics


Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste

Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste


Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Kyiv, Ukraine

If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be visiting five countries in a matter of months this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.  If you were to have also told me that the unique and beautiful country that I visited over the summer would be in a state of inner turmoil just a few short months later, I probably wouldn’t believe you either.  But here I am, scrolling through the news pictures of the riots in Ukraine, disheartened by the changes in such a short amount of time.

I was so fortunate to be on a project this year that brought me to Kyiv, Ukraine.  I love visiting new places, and couldn’t wait to see another side of Eastern Europe.  However, trying to deal with celiac disease in Ukraine was baptism by fire for me.  I do not speak Ukrainian, nor can I read Cyrillic letters.  I tried to translate “no gluten” on my phone, but it turns out I had to be connected to the internet to access the phrase, and could never quite verify that the translation was actually correct.

The nice thing about European hotels, especially nice ones, is that they usually have a great breakfast spread.  They’ll lay out every food you can imagine that might be considered breakfast.  The Hotel Opera in Kyiv was no exception.  Every morning I ventured down to the restaurant where I was treated to a fresh fruit buffet, and made to order eggs.

Lunches were definitely more of a challenge.  The offices we worked from for the week weren’t in the most popular area for restaurants, and we didn’t have much time to step away from our work for a meal.  We alternated days going to a quick corner stop, and a luncheon restaurant nearby.  I had to take a leap of faith in Ukraine, and go with my gut.  It was a risky chance to take, but I unfortunately hadn’t planned for any other option.  Thanks to the culture, my food didn’t really have any additives, nor did it make me sick during the trip.  I always found the simple meals while we were out, keeping to sausage and sauerkraut or borscht for the most part.

My workload that week kept me from venturing out for dinner, which actually worked out much easier for me.  The hotel restaurant staff understood my concerns about gluten, and were able to help me order my meals each night.  I alternated between ordering room service and meeting my coworkers in the hotel restaurant.  Here are some pictures of my favorite Ukrainian meals.

Quail Breast

Quail Breast Foie Gras with Cabbage and Fried Quail Egg


Ukrainian Borscht


Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus

Travel Tip #1: Breakfast can be your best friend, and usually a guaranteed meal.  Since hotel staff tend to be bilingual and able to better accommodate foreign requests, they’ll be able to answer your gluten free questions.  Fill up early in the day since you may run into challenges for lunch and dinner.

Travel Tip #2: Do research about a city or culture before you go.  Learn what their common dishes are, and what ways you could potentially be contaminated.

Travel Tip #3: Most translation apps on your phone need to be connected to the internet in order to access their language databases (including anything you’ve previously translated). Before you leave for your trip, verify whether or not your app will work in an area without service by attempting to translate a phrase while your phone is in airplane mode.

A little bonus on this post, there have been too many devastating pictures posted of Kyiv riots recently, so I’d like to share a few of mine from earlier last summer that show the country’s true beauty.

CSP1060654 CSP1060671  CSP1060750 CSP1060764 CSP1060768 CSP1060771CSP1060678